“As I age, as loss becomes a constant thread in my life’s tapestry, I do find it harder and harder to separate the humans from the dogs. I’ll admit it. That would be like separating the past from the present, or memory from reality. The blend is the thing.” – Rheta Grimsley Johnson, from “The Dogs Buried Over the Bridge.”
Annabelle Blue Winkel was 13 years old when she died two weeks ago.
On Tuesday, she will be laid to rest in the family plot in Riverside Cemetery.
An obituary will be published. A priest will pray and read scripture. Poetry will be recited. A hymn will be sung. Tears will fall.
A pink-and-green spray of flowers will be placed next to her granite headstone. Her best friend from Florida – a pug named Sadie Mae – will attend the memorial service.
Annabelle was not a young lady. In fact, she was a nonagenarian in dog years.
It may seem over the top to spend 20 hours planning a funeral for a dog, not to mention paying the expenses. Why not just dig a hole out back under a tree?
But for Terry and Rebecca Winkel, she was the “daughter we always wanted.” Like other childless couples, whenever there was a hole in their hearts, Annabelle was there to fill it.
The Winkels don’t have deep pockets. They both are retired. They have lived frugally to pay vet bills. They have cut corners and survived on tuna fish for weeks to afford Annabelle’s seven medications.
They treated her like the royalty she was – a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, whose father was a champion show dog.
They pampered her, much the same way others dote on children and grandchildren. The Winkels not only carried around pictures, they kept large, framed photographs in their house.
“She was my baby,” said Rebecca. “She had a crib, a wardrobe and a suitcase.”
Rebecca grew up in Macon. She met her future husband in Sarasota, Florida, in the early 1980s. Terry was a juvenile detective. She was a social worker, assigned to abused and neglected children.
They went on a case together, fell in love and married.
Clothes, books and a shih tzu named Me Too Twinkle came with the marriage. After the wedding, the little dog became Me Too Twinkle Winkel. They still laugh about that.
She was a rescue pet at a shelter for abused children. “They adopted a baby who couldn’t handle the fur, so I took her,” said Rebecca.
Me Too lived 11 years. Later in life, she developed allergies and other health problems. Often, she had to take IVs. When her paws would bleed on the grass, Terry designed a children’s harness with suspenders and baby booties.
Rebecca was grief-stricken when the dog died in 1987.
“I sat in a lawn chair in the yard for three days,” she said.
Later, Rebecca got a lap dog named Katrina. Her husband had his own dog, too, named Nicholas Alexander, who answered to Nicky.
Rebecca was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1991, the same year she became an elementary school teacher. Doctors told her she would never be able to have her own children.
Her students became like her own kids. So did the dogs she and Terry took under their roof.
When she retired in 2004, they found a breeder in Fort Lauderdale, who hand-picked Annabelle from a litter of three girl puppies and one boy.
The Winkels, however, believe Annabelle picked them.
“When we walked in that house, with I don’t know how many puppies, she came straight to me,” Rebecca said.
The Winkels moved to Macon in 2009. They brought with them the grave markers of their other animals to create a memory garden in the backyard.
They knew Annabelle was living on borrowed time. At age 7, she developed heart disease, which is common for her breed. She suffered from back problems and eventually lost control of her hind legs. She had acupuncture and underwent laser therapy. She died of kidney failure.
Annabelle will be buried in a casket in the cemetery, the final resting place of many of Rebecca’s family. She certainly is not the first beloved animal to be given a funeral in the historic cemeteries along Riverside Drive.
In the “Triangle Square” section of Rose Hill is the grave of Lt. Bobby, a brown fox terrier who served as the official mascot of the 121st Blue Bonnet Infantry of the Georgia National Guard.
Lt. Bobby was commissioned in the Army by President Calvin Coolidge, and was the pet of Capt. D.C. Harris. The dog died after accidentally falling down the elevator shaft at the Dempsey Hotel on Jan. 29, 1936. Lt. Bobby was given a military funeral with a flag-draped casket, four honorary pallbearers and a 21-gun salute. An Army bugler played “Taps.”
Rebecca has planned a half-hour service for Annabelle. Scripture will be read from Psalms and Ecclesiastes. The hymn, “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” will be sung by a guest soloist. The poem, “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe will be read, as well as “Joy and Sorrow” by Khalil Gibran.
This is not the same kind of closure as a fenced-in yard.
It’s about letting go, celebrating the life and seeking comfort in the words of C.S. Lewis, who believed all dogs go to heaven.
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism and creative writing at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.